Evanston aldermen sent a proposed ban on single-use plastic shopping bags back to committee Monday night after several opponents and no supporters turned out to speak on the issue.

Dick Peach, 1414 Greenleaf St., told aldermen that in his west side neighborhood there’s a lot of problems with paper trash — bags, cups, all sorts of other stuff. But plastic bags, Peach said, are not much of a problem.

Peach, a former president of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said 52 businesses in Evanston would be affected by the ban — which would exempt non-chain businesses but include franchises.

He said one business that would be affected is Harold’s Hardware on Central Street, because it has a franchise agreement with a hardware distributor.

Harold’s, Peach said, pulled all its conventional plastic bags and went to recyclable ones during the last debate about banning bags. And now those bags, Peach said, would be banned under the proposed ordinance.

Peach said education efforts, encouraging people to recycle and use reusable bags, would be a much better approach than a ban.

Jim Nelson, who gave his address as Forest Avenue, said he worked for various industrial firms on waste management issues. “I was up to my eyeballs in solid waste issues for a long time,” he says.

He called the ban “a feel-good initiative that really won’t do much.”

Nelson said most reusable bags are made in China — which has some of the worst environmental problems in the world and that using more of those bags wouldn’t help the environment overall.

Jeanne Lindwall.

Jeanne Lindwall, of 625 Library Place, said the city hasn’t done any outreach to the business community or other groups — so introducing the ordinance was premature.

She also argued that the city lacks good baseline data to even know how many disposable plastic bags are being used here.

And she said the Chicago ordinance on which the proposed Evanston one is based, “is poorly drafted and has a lot of issues.” For example, she said, it calls for using compostable bags — but there’s no recycling facility in the area for those.

Just because Chicago did it doesn’t mean it’s right for Evanston, Lindwall said.

She also argued that city departments have more important things to do than try to enforce a ban on plastic bags.

Betty Sue Ester, 2031 Church St., says the ordinance would inconvenience many people.

And Rosemary O’Neill, 2044 Sheridan Road, said there are many more important things for the council to address. “File it away and recycle it,” O’Neill said.

In addition to the public comments, Jonathan Perman, a lobbyist for the American Progressive Bag Alliance an association of plastic bag manufacturers, had been working behind the scenes to persuade alderman that in-store recycling of bags is a better solution than a ban.

Perman also argued that data from the Environmental Protection agency shows that plastic shopping bags make up only about half a percentage point of the municipal waste stream in the United States.

Most aldermen managed to avoid staking out their own position on the bag ban at Monday night’s meeting.

But Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she wants to “get rid of these awful bags that litter our streets,” while Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she “doesn’t like the ordinance.”

It was not entirely clear after Monday’s vote whether some form of a bag ban ordinance would be likely to re-emerge from the Administration and Public Works Committee, or only a proposal for additional environmental education efforts.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. What the city can do about bags

    Look at the plastic bags you see sticking out of the recycle bins.  If the city would prohibit and enforce [not pick-up ?] recycle material left in plastic bags, THEY should get a long way towards their goal.

    I see far more bags in recycle bins than on the streets.  What you see on the streets are plastic water bottles and beer/pop cans.

    Also I've read the plastic bags damage the recycle machines the city uses.


  2. Plastic bag ban
    Most of these comments are rather short-sighted. Here’s a quick short list for why removing plastic bags from our waste stream would be a good practice for Evanston:

    1) Plastic bags add to landfills, even if it’s only “only about half a percentage point of the municipal waste stream in the United States” which actually turns out to be a lot of waste that takes a long, long time to bio-degrade
    2) Plastic bags are made from a non-renewable resource — petroleum
    3) Somehow, enormous numbers of plastic bags continue to end up in our oceans, threatening all types of marine and land wildlife
    4) Even replacing plastic bags with paper bags would be an improvement because most paper bags are now made from recycled paper . . . and they hold more than the typical plastic bag
    5) Removing plastic bags only helps businesses since they would no longer have to buy them to supply them to consumers

    For those citizens who believe the City Council is wasting time and “has more important things to do,” I suggest they review the City’s approved and supported Strategic Plan which includes Environmental Sustainability as one of its primary goals. And one of the fundamental attributes of Environmental Sustainability is a reduction in the reliance on and use of non-renewable resources, like petroleum.

    1. What He Said

      (Somewhat simple solution). You have a business in Evanston that uses plastic bags… you have to sell reusable bags… hell, the City could subsidize the cost to make them more attractive for consumers.

    2. Plastic bag ban

      Let's start with the fact that anything that goes into a landfill will take a lifetime to biodegrade because there's no oxygen in the landfill to promote the process. Secondly, plastic bags are NOT made from petroleum products, they are made from a by-product of natural gas production. If the environment is your concern, paper bags have a  carbon foot print many times that of plastic bags, they waste water, and by size do not handle as much product as plastic bags. Finally there is no savings to businesses because they will still have to purchase another type of bag.

      The problem with this ordinance is that there is no hard data to support this effort. The problem is not the bag, it's how WE dispose of it. We need  a recyling stream for plastic bags, and education and programs to encourage citizens to do the right thing and not dump the trash in the public right of way.

      1. Good points

        No data to support… Kinda like Global Warming now re branded to Climate Change 😉

        What do I use to pick up my dog's poop?  Seriously!

          1. Come On Fido

            Is the Review still in business? Pick it up with the paper then put it in a two-use plastic bag.

            Good Idea

    3. About 72.5% of plastic bags

      About 72.5% of plastic bags used in the United States are made in the United States. Plastic bags are made out of polyethylene. In the United States, ethylene is made of ethane which is a waste by-product obtained from natural gas refining. Domestically produced plastic bags are not made out of oil.
      Plastic bags can be recycled where the reusable bags can not.  The reusable bags come from china are made from oil. 

      They biodegrade in 5 to 10 years but there have been microbes discovered in the last two years that can do it in 3 months. 

      You are correct the Corporate Grocer stands to make a lot of money on this.  The fee (with no limit), the savings in not supplying bags, the purchase of reusable bags and the purchase of prepackaged plastic to replace the "free' bag . 

  3. Plastic bags

    Yes, most plastic bags are now made from natural gas. But either oil or natural gas, they are non-renewable resources that are used for something we use for about 12 minutes. Yes, plastic bags by weight are not a huge part of the waste system, but they are part of the single-use disposable plastic we could do without.

    Yes, you might not see a lot of plastic bags as littter in your area, but I do. Plastic bags do not degrade so they will be in our environment for awhile, looking nasty and a danger to our animals. The break up into bits in our waterways atrracting toxins and getting into our food chain.

     I find it interesting that the bag lobbyist always brings up recycling for a solution when bag makers do not use recycled bags for their products! They make bags from virgin plastic because it is easier and cheaper. If plastic bags were worth any amount of money, we would be cleaning them off the streets ourselves.

    NYC doesn't recyle plastic bags anymore because there is absolutely no market for them. The plastic bags that are collected at the grocery store get used for products like composite lumber which itself cannot be recycled. So, not a closed loop system. Plus, if I need to bring back bags to store to recycle, I might as well bring my reusables.

    And yes, the cheap plastic reuable bags are made in China. They do not last very long. Please use a nice sturdy cotton bag, it will last forever. The best solution is a fee, but not a tax. The fee would go directly to the retailer. That way, if you truly want the plastic bag, you can pay for it. Best of all, you get to decide if the retailer gets your money or you bring your own bag. A fee should be inacted for paper as well, all sorts of environmental issues with paper making too! Fees change behaviors.

    Plastic bags may not seem like a huge pressing issue compared to the rest of our world problems, but it is an easy fix. 

    1. Bags vrs. cans/bottles

      You said "Plus, if I need to bring back bags to store to recycle, I might as well bring my reusables."


      Many of us do bring the bags to the grocery store to use for that days shopping.  Only when they get holes in them and those from newspaper,etc.,do we have to put them in the recycle bin. 

      If people would recycle cans and bottles, not only what they use but those thrown on their lawns and gutters [where they clog them and in heavy rain the streets flood] we would have much less waste.  The cans in particular will never 'biodegrade" if left in the street/lawns.  Better to tax the cans and bottles than bags—who on the Council will push that ?.

    2. The plastic bag is reused for

      The plastic bag is reused for pet waste, dirty diapers, litter, waste cans, returning items to store, crafts, transporting items to goodwill , and more.  Actually only 11 percent is used for the 12 minutes you quote.  Plastic bags do degrade in 5 to 10 years.  A 16 year old, Daniel Burd was able to isolate a microbe that did it in 3 months.  There is a study that there are microbes that dine on plastic in the ocean and scientists are looking at ways to use them in the landfills. 

      I saw the whale that had ingested plastic but I think the propeller wounds caused his death.  Unless live animals are studied, unfortunately the people that spout that animals are dying from plastic are guessing too. Typically plastic goes right through, kinda like gum when swallowed.  More studies need to be done there. 

      As for all plastic being virgin.  Where have you been? Hilex is one of the major recycling plants in United States.  There are videos on how they recycle plastic.  In Japan 75 percent of ALL their plastic is recycled.  There are plants and it is cheaper.  

      The big money behind these bans are the Grocer Associations.  They make money in not supplying bags, the fee, the price of reusable bags and the purchase of preplastic plastic to replace the plastic bag.  

      Look at Rwanda if you want to see where this banning will lead.  The last thing I want is to go to jail because I chose a plastic bag.   


  4. I find it awfully strange

    I find it awfully strange that the vice president of the local environmental association would be speaking up -in opposition- to a plastic bag ban ordinance.  I haven't lived in this city too long, but I've never had the pleasure of having to try to distinguish the fake local environmentalists from the real local environmentalists anywhere I've lived before.  So thank you for that, Evanston.      

    But for that matter, why are the former chamber of commerce presidents the point men for the business community on this issue while I haven't heard a peep from the current leadership or any statements from the local chambers themselves?    

    You know one reason why there may be large scale production of reusable bags in China?  Because there's been a nationwide plastic bag ban there for six years.  Yet, somehow they've muddled through to a growth rate average of 8.9% for the last 5 years.      

    1. Please don’t label those with differing opinions

      I appreciate your perspective and opinions.  I would suggest that you please don't attack those you do not know who hold views different from yours and assign them labels like "fake environmentalists".  While it may make you feel good to label them, it does not advance the dialog, only shut it down.  Evanston is at its best when differing views can be expressed and heard, and all can be swayed based on the merits of the arguments. 

      I personally am on the fence about the plastic bag ban, and am starting to like the tax suggestion from another person posting here.

  5. Be part of the Solution

    While Evanston certainly has many opportunites to improve the environment, let's not trivialize the importance of eliminating plastic from the waste stream and the upstream impacts of redcuing plastic bag production. And while Evanston's impact may seem small on a Global scale, there is an adage that holds very true of almost any environmental issue, if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Some facts:

    • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide. Consider China, a country of 1.3 billion, which consumes 3 billion plastic bags daily, according to China Trade News.
    • About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
    • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade (whoever thinks it's years in a landfill is just wrong and when they "degrade" in water they're just becoming smaller, but still toxic, pieces)
    • More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2013
    • The U.S. goes through 100 billion single-use plastic bags. This costs retailers about $4 billion a year.
    • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008) (I wonder if this holds true for our lake?)
    • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
    • Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.

    Not ALL reusable bags are made in China and many use NO petroleum products. We can help retailers and consumers to find these options. http://www.truereusablebags.com/

  6. worthy impulse, wrong approach

    Not a ban. Very few things are so bad for us that they should be banned.

    A tax. Ireland imposed a national 10p tax on each bag issued. Plastic bag use declined by 85% in 12 months. No coercion, revenue stream directed toward recycling, the reduction took ZERO public revenue to implement.


  7. Ignorance is bliss

    The Evanston community likes to tout itself as a highly intellegent community; thinking of ourselves as leaders, better and brighter than most.  We like to pat ourselves on the back for our "green" initiatives; and our politicians like to be photographed with environmental awards.  Then an obvious issue like removing plastic from the waste stream comes along, and we show our ignorance.  

    Plastic never goes away.  Plastic does break down into smaller and smaller pieces, to a point where it can't be recognized by the human eye, as plastic.  Then these molecular pieces of small plastic debris travel into our water supply and are consumed by small life forms that are themsleves consumed by larger life forms, and so on until inevitably consumed by marine life, wildlife, and the food we grow; all can contain the plastic we throw away.  This is not just my opinion, but fact.  We are eating and drinking our plastic garbage today.  We can remain ignorant at our choosing.  Evanston has a long sandy beach we can all stick our heads in.    

    The opinions I read so far use excuses for maintaining the status-quo.  To stop using plastic bags would be "inconvenient" and "difficult for businesses".  It is frightening to me that Evanston officials allow lobbyists for the plastic industry to coach them to vote against such an important and positive environmental concern.  And to dismiss Chicago's initiative to ban bags, is just plain stupid.  Their action is one of the few actions i find positive about Chicago.  They should be commended.

    It seems the intellegence per capita in Evanston may be eroding; possibly due to the plastic we are consuming.  So let's refresh:  The earth is round, not flat.  The earth revolves around the sun, not the other way around.  And yes, for the deniers in the crowd, humans are causing climate change (among other things) that is in turn causing great harm to our planet.

    Let's avoid being seen as an ignorant community.

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